We live in a neighborhood of seasonal houses. Most are owned by families from other New England states, especially Massachusetts. Except for my nephew, who has the house next to ours, the owners are not really known to us. They come mostly on weekends, to ski in the winter and play golf in the summer. We exchange waves on the road but rarely talk since they move about mostly in cars. The neighbors immediately across the road are a bit of an exception in that we can’t avoid brief conversations. I’ve written about them here before after they went on a rampage of tree clearing. Despite that, we have a reasonably civil relationship with them and with other seasonal owners in the neighborhood. As Melville’s Ishmael says, “it is but well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates of the place one lodges in.” And I give them credit for making long drives to spend just a few days at a time in Maine to enjoy all the outdoor activities we who live here are privileged to enjoy full time.
But there’s one thing I don’t understand about these seasonal residents: why are they afraid of the night? Within minutes of their arrival, floodlights come on. Of course it makes sense that they want to see while they unload their cars. But those floodlights stay on all night. Some turn them off in the morning, which makes you think they just forgot, but it’s hard to imagine that from the inside of their houses they don’t notice their yards bathed in light. Then the next night, on come the lights again. Sometimes, especially on a three-day weekend, the road through our neighborhood looks more like Times Square than a spot in rural Maine.
So, one of my permanent resident neighbors asked me, what are they afraid of? What do they think all those floodlights protect them from? Surely not burglars or drug gangs. If not humans, maybe an angry moose? A rogue bear? Who knows. Since most of these neighbors are not city folk, I don’t think they just miss the round-the-clock lights of an urban world. And I doubt that they illuminate the backyards and swimming pools of their suburban houses. No, I suspect it’s just that they think the woods of Maine present dangers against which all-night lighting can save them.
It’s reasonable to wonder why I don’t take my question to them directly. I have asked my immediate neighbors to please turn off their floodlights overnight since they shine directly into our bedroom. They comply only sporadically, not registering that the problem isn’t a one-off but a recurring one. In the interest of neighborliness I resist opening a battle over night lights, hoping they will sometime get it. On one occasion my immediate neighbors left a set of floodlights on when they drove off on a Sunday evening. The next day I took a ladder and climbed up and unscrewed the bulbs. When they came back I saw them checking it out and eventually replacing rather than re-screwing the bulbs. I got away with that one!
Sometimes I fantasize about getting a mailing list of my neighbors and sending a questionnaire asking why they light their outdoor areas so aggressively, but I suspect the response rate on that would be low. I could go door to door asking them, but that would probably only confirm for them that Maine is inhabited by eccentric old dudes–perhaps a threat that would justify their all night lighting.
Why do these aggressive night lights bother me? Aside from the one that shines into our bedroom, the others really don’t have a direct impact on us. I think the reason the night lighting mania troubles me is that it destroys, or at least undermines, one of the reasons for living in a rural areas: to enjoy the real night lights, the stars that shine so brightly away from city lights. I don’t know the details of the stars and planets, but I know that going out on a clear night and observing the natural wonder of it is a joy. I wish my lighting-up neighbors could experience the same pleasure, but that would require them to have a different understanding of night lights.